Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang seeks referendum on nuclear power plant

Taiwan's ruling party prepares a draft motion seeking to hold a referendum on whether nearly completed project should be scrapped

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 March, 2013, 4:01am

Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang says it has completed work on a draft referendum motion that will ask the public to decide the fate of the island's controversial fourth nuclear power plant.

Civic groups plan to stage demonstrations across the island tomorrow, demanding the government of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou stop construction of the nearly completed plant and make Taiwan nuclear free.

"I hope the motion can provide a platform for the public to decide whether to continue to build the fourth nuclear power plant," KMT legislator Lee Ching-hua, the chief drafter of the motion, told a news conference held by the KMT's legislative caucus in Taipei yesterday.

Lee, a long-time opponent of the power plant, urged authorities - including the government-run Taiwan Power Company, the Atomic Energy Council and the economics ministry, to reveal all relevant data to the public to pave the way for reasoned debate.

The draft motion calls for all eligible voters in Taiwan to be asked: "Do you agree that work on the fourth nuclear power plant should be halted and that operation of the plant should never be launched?"

The draft motion, which needs to be endorsed by at least 10 legislators before it can be sent to the agenda committee, lists several reasons why construction and operation of the plant should be halted. They include safety concerns, the time and money consumed in the long-running dispute, which dates back to 1999, Taiwan's frequent earthquakes and the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011.

It also gives reasons for building and operating the plant, including provision of a relatively clean and cheap source of power generation, the difficulty in finding a better alternative and predicted high prices for non- nuclear power that would affect future economic development.

The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party said it would not endorse the motion because it suspected it was being manipulated by new Taiwanese Premier Dr Jiang Yi-huah to reduce public resentment of the Ma government as a result of sluggish economic growth.

The Taiwanese legislators are allowed to initiate referendum motions to decide important but controversial issues. But a motion must be endorsed by at least 10 legislators and passed by the legislature before it can be sent to the Central Election Commission, which makes preparations for the holding of a referendum. The latest motion is expected to be approved, given the KMT's majority in the legislature.

Meanwhile, both Ma and Jiang, who caught the DPP off-guard by proposing the referendum on an issue that has long been a demand of the pro-independence party, said they would "definitely go to vote" because they took the issue seriously.

But opposition critics said it would be difficult for the referendum to pass, given the high voter turnout required - more than 50 per cent. All six referendums between 2000 and 2008 failed due to an inadequate turnout.